Fdd's overnight brief

April 28, 2023

In The News


The Biden administration imposed sanctions on the leading security services in Russia and Iran for what it said was a pattern of wrongfully detaining Americans in an effort to use them for political leverage. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran’s naval forces on Thursday seized an oil tanker bound for Texas in the Gulf of Oman, a move that drew condemnation from the U.S. military at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran’s foreign minister said Thursday that Tehran wants Lebanon’s rivals to reach an agreement to elect a new president in the crisis-hit country that has been without a head of state since October. – Associated Press 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced the MAHSA Act, a bill aiming to increase sanctions on Iranian leadership, by a unanimous voice vote. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they intend to continue negotiations on the bill, which has been the subject of intensive talks and some disagreement leading up to yesterday’s vote. – Jewish Insider

Russia & Ukraine

For over a decade, he was known as Viktor Muller Ferreira, a Brazilian student with a keen interest in international affairs and a love of dancing. But last year, as he flew to the Netherlands to start an internship at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Dutch authorities refused him entry to the country and accused him of being a Russian spy. – Washington Post

Eleven missiles and two drones were shot down over Kyiv, the city’s administration said. There were no initial reports of civilian casualties or targets hit, the city administration said. It said debris from intercepted attacks damaged a power line and road. – Washington Post

When Poland and Slovakia announced their plans to donate up to 30 MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, it was hailed as a breakthrough in getting Kyiv ever more sophisticated weaponry and as a sign that Eastern European nations were prepared to be bolder than the United States or NATO allies in Western Europe. – Washington Post

Russian troops tried on Thursday to sever important supply routes into the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and thereby put more pressure on defending forces, Ukrainian officers said. – Reuters

Russian forces pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles as people slept on Friday, killing at least nine people in their first large-scale air strikes in nearly two months. – Reuters

The Ukrainian Secret Service attempted to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin with a drone, but the attack failed when the drone crashed before reaching him, German newspaper Bild reported on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post

Joshua C. Huminski writes: In the days ahead as Ukraine’s counteroffensive proceeds, policymakers and pundits alike would do well to look to the first principles of military analysis and the definitions that accompany and inform this analysis and its context. Managing expectations and recognizing that this offensive will not determine the outcome of the war is critical to both American and European support to Ukraine, which, in turn, is critical to Kyiv’s ultimate success against Russian aggression. – The Hill 


Tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support a plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judiciary flocked to Jerusalem on Thursday to rally for the proposal, which has prompted some of the biggest protests in Israel’s history. – Associated Press

Israeli security forces said they shot and killed a suspected Palestinian assailant in the West Bank on Thursday, stirring tensions in the occupied territory at a time of unusually high violence. – Associated Press

IDF chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Thursday told General Michael Kurilla during US CENTCOM chief’s visit to Israel, that the IDF is closely following Iran’s heightened aggression. Further, Halevi stated that the allied countries must deepen their cooperation especially at this tense moment in order to deter any further escalation. – Jerusalem Post

US President Joe Biden’s alienation of Riyadh makes a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia difficult, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a trip to Jerusalem Thursday during which he positioned himself as a strong supporter of the Jewish state ahead of a possible presidential run. – Jerusalem Post


Before her country and her life were suddenly and fundamentally changed in 2021, Mahnaz Akbari was the trailblazing commander of the Afghan National Army’s Female Tactical Platoon, an all-female squad that accompanied elite U.S. Special Operations troops as they carried out daring mountain missions, hunted ISIS combatants and freed captives from Taliban jails. – New York Times

In a rare show of unity, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Thursday condemning the Taliban’s discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan and called for the country’s leadership to swiftly reverse policies banning education, employment and equal public participation of women and girls. – New York Times

The British government said on Thursday it had imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on two Afghan individuals under its Islamic State and Al Qaeda sanctions regime. – Reuters


Turkish citizens based in Germany began voting on Thursday in Turkey’s elections at a record number of polling stations aimed at boosting their participation in a vote that is the biggest electoral threat to President Tayyip Erdogan in two decades in power. – Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his first public appearance in two days on Thursday, easing speculation over his health after he became briefly ill on live TV. – Bloomberg

A leading international rights group on Thursday said Turkish border guards have been indiscriminately shooting at Syrian civilians along the border with the war-wrecked country, as well as using excessive force against asylum seekers and migrants trying to cross into Turkey. – Associated Press

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Thursday appointed a new ambassador to Syria, the Tunisian presidency said in a statement, the latest Arab move to end Syria’s regional isolation. – Reuters

A ship came under attack Friday off the coast of Yemen in unclear circumstances, a British military organization said. The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides support to ships across the Mideast, said the attack happened off Nishtun, Yemen, in the country’s far east near the border with Oman. – Associated Press

A European judicial team pressed on with its corruption probe of Lebanon’s embattled Central Bank governor on Thursday, questioning one of his aides and summoning his brother for another hearing next week, officials said. – Associated Press

Zalman Shoval writes: The basic concerns of the Saudis regarding Iran’s intentions have not disappeared and security ties with Israel, even if secret for the moment, are part of its realization of this. Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to enlarge its circle of international relations to include, in addition to the US, the Gulf states, Turkey, the Arab world, China, and now Israel as well. It also sees itself as playing a crucial role in the region, balancing Egypt, Iran, Israel and Turkey to protect its own security and wield regional influence. – Jerusalem Post

Devorah Margolin writes: In any case, as the United States continues to disrupt “ISIS at large” in Syria, it is important to keep tracking these efforts. This means looking at the nature of U.S. operations (including whether they are unilateral or partnered) and assessing what they reveal about the focus of U.S. attention. – Washington Institute

Camille Jablonski writes: Interestingly, Iran’s scores will likely hold steady or fall by only a small amount in next year’s report regardless of the regime’s performance in 2023. This is because most Freedom House metrics cannot fall below zero according to the organization’s rating system, and Iran has already reached that figure in several specific categories (e.g., people’s right to organize political parties). – Washington Institute

Mohamed Maher and Mohamed Farid write: Greater influence in Egypt will enhance China’s standing against the United States, and China’s growing investments in Egypt could threaten the United States’ economic interests in the coming decade. Without a doubt, a further strategic partnership between Egypt and Beijing will eventually negatively impact Egypt’s special relationship with the United States. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol urged ever more strengthening of the U.S.-led security alliance against nuclear-armed North Korea on Thursday, drawing cheers from Congress as he saluted the “great American heroes” who helped preserve his country’s democracy in the Korean War. – Associated Press

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told U.S. lawmakers on Thursday it is necessary to speed up trilateral cooperation with Japan and the United States to counter increasing North Korean nuclear threats, and said the world must not “shy away” from promoting freedom for the North. – Reuters

It was the first speech to a joint session of Congress by a South Korean leader in a decade, and it came at a fortuitous time. Anti-China sentiment is running high on both sides of the aisle in the US, and South Korea is seen as an important ally as China grows more assertive. – Bloomberg

Graham Allison writes: For now, though, Biden and his national security team’s success in embracing their South Korean ally, respecting Yoon and his colleagues’ concerns, and taking concrete steps to persuade them that reliance on the United States is preferable to their alternatives is another big win for Team USA. – Foreign Policy


Chinese authorities have embarked on a campaign to bring foreign businesses to heel, just months after Beijing delivered an open-for-business message to global investors. – Wall Street Journal

In speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Chinese leader Xi Jinping addressed two problems in his country’s increasingly tense relationship with Europe. – Wall Street Journal 

China rewrote its law against espionage to tighten state control over a wider swath of data and digital activities, an expansion of its power to neutralize perceived foreign threats that raises the risks for businesses operating in the world’s second-largest economy. – Wall Street Journal 

For years, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has railed against greed and corruption in the country’s financial sector, making an example of a few prominent figures along the way. – New York Times

Xi’s plan to send an envoy to Ukraine allows his government to deflect criticism of its support for Moscow and pursue a bigger role as a diplomatic force. His announcement Wednesday in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy prompted optimism Beijing might use its warm relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to push for peace. That was followed by skeptical questions about whether Beijing is more focused on ending an invasion it refuses to criticize, or serving its own interests. – Associated Press

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the Biden administration is working to “de-risk,” not “decouple,” from China, making the case that the administration’s industrial strategy is crucial to competing with its geopolitical rival. – Bloomberg

Germany is in talks to limit the export of chemicals to China that are used to manufacture semiconductors as Berlin steps up efforts to reduce its economic exposure to the Asian nation. – Bloomberg

Robert A. Manning writes: China’s annoyance at the gap between U.S. rhetoric and reality, and U.S. anger at Beijing’s behavior, is fueling another spiral. This is despite Biden’s intentions to build guardrails. The standoff is leading to the fragmentation of that system and an erosion of global trade and financial rules. This may be unavoidable, but both the U.S. and China need to define the terms and limits of competition, or this will not end well. – The Hill

Peter Mattis writes: If the intelligence community can obtain more open-source intel and embrace AI-enabled tools to examine the data, its analysts would be able to learn—and share—even more. If the community can recruit China experts, it will better anticipate Beijing’s actions and focus analysts’ activities and resources. Beijing’s decision-making may remain opaque, but Washington will still be able to understand China’s behavior. – Foreign Affairs

Agathe Demarais writes: At the Beijing Olympic Games in 2022, only a few weeks before Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian and Chinese leaders claimed that their friendship knew “no limits.” More than a year later, Xi and Putin have only confirmed the adage that some things are easier said than done. Putin’s grand expectations have yet to be met. And contrary to official declarations, Russia’s enthusiastic pivot to China has not been reciprocated. – Foreign Affairs

South Asia

A Chinese national who was arrested in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy has been released from a high-security prison after a court granted him bail, a defense lawyer and local police said Friday. – Associated Press

Lawmakers from Pakistan’s ruling party overwhelmingly backed Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government in a confidence vote in Parliament on Thursday — a show of hands intended to halt speculations that he was losing support amid a major economic crisis. – Associated Press

China’s defense minister says conditions along the tense, high-altitude border with India are “stable overall,” in sharp contrast with the far more pessimistic view from New Delhi. – Associated Press

Ties between India and China depend on “peace” on the border, India’s defense chief has told his Chinese counterpart, amid strained relations over their contested Himalayan border. – Bloomberg


The final scenes recorded by a Japanese reporter who was killed during street protests in Myanmar have emerged some 15 years after he died. Kenji Nagai, a 50-year-old journalist, was fatally shot as soldiers fired on demonstrators gathered in Yangon, the capital, to protest the military junta. His death was one of about 10 that the regime admits occurred — international estimates are much higher — during the Saffron Revolution, an uprising named after the color of the robes worn by Buddhist monks who were central to the movement. – Washington Post

Japan will invite some emerging nations to an outreach meeting at the Group of Seven advanced countries Japan chairs next month in the city of Niigata, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said on Friday. – Reuters

China’s military flew 38 fighter jets and other warplanes near Taiwan, the Taiwanese defense ministry said Friday, in the largest such flight display since the large military exercise in which it simulated sealing off the island earlier in the month. – Associated Press

A Chinese coast guard ship blocked a Philippine patrol vessel steaming into a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, causing a frightening near-collision in the latest act of Beijing’s aggression in the strategic waterway. – Associated Press

Japan adopted a new five-year ocean policy on Friday that calls for stronger maritime security, including bolstering its coast guard’s capability and cooperation with the military amid China’s increasing assertiveness in regional seas. – Associated Press

China’s military has dispatched a pair of navy ships to take part in joint drills with Singapore’s navy and join in a regional maritime security exhibition. The exercises starting Friday in the Southeast Asian city state come amid China’s growing presence in the South China Sea, which it claims sovereignty over virtually in its entirety. – Associated Press

China’s ambassador warned Japan that Taiwan was a red line not to be crossed, and said the detention of an employee of Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma Inc. was related to a spying incident that damaged Beijing’s sovereignty. – Bloomberg

Australia’s economic and diplomatic relations with China are in recovery mode, with tensions over issues ranging from foreign investment to security receding as Beijing tamps down its punitive efforts to bend one of its key commodity suppliers to its will. – Bloomberg


Europe is taking steps to turn off one of the last significant supplies of Russian fossil fuels, seaborne shipments of liquefied natural gas. The question is whether the move would hurt Europe more than Russia. – Wall Street Journal 

Bosnia’s international envoy amended the constitution on an interim basis on Thursday to help form a regional government after a prolonged deadlock, and gave its parliament one year to draft their own version of his constitutional amendments. – Reuters

Placards at Budapest tram stops show a portion of pizza next to the slogan “Why would we be satisfied with less?” Hungarians are urged to think with their wallets and choose “More Europe.” – Bloomberg

A majority of French voters back labor unions’ call to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform next week, according to a poll. – Bloomberg

Hungary could unlock about €13 billion ($14.4 billion) of funds frozen by the European Union after reaching a preliminary deal on key judicial reforms, according to the bloc’s budget commissioner. – Bloomberg

James Stavridis writes: While there will be some pinching in specific global commercial supply chains (e.g., electronics, construction materials, some minerals), the overall capacity to outproduce the tottering Russian economy is clear. Assuming China continues to wisely decline to throw Putin a war material lifeline, Russia will fall further and further behind Western production abilities. This classic “American way of war,” which succeeded in both World War II and ultimately in the Cold War, keeps the odds in favor of the Ukrainians. – Bloomberg


Tens of thousands of people have streamed across Sudan’s international borders over the past two weeks, seeking to escape fighting between the military and a powerful paramilitary — the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF. Many others have fled their homes and sought refuge within the country. – Washington Post

A rivalry between Sudan’s top two generals erupted into warfare on April 15, pitting the East African country’s military against a state-sponsored militia called the Rapid Support Forces. The military is using jet fighters to strike RSF positions, many in densely populated areas, while both factions are engaging in street battles using guns and artillery fire. – Wall Street Journal 

Police in Uganda detained 11 female members of parliament on Thursday who they accused of staging of an unlawful protest, with some of the lawmakers sustaining injuries during their arrest. – Reuters

An attack on a military detachment in east Burkina Faso on Thursday left 33 soldiers dead and 12 injured, the military-led government said, the latest bout of violence in a country locked in fighting against a jihadist insurgency. – Reuters

Gunmen killed 15 villagers and abducted five aid workers in separate attacks in Nigeria’s troubled northern region, authorities said Thursday. – Associated Press

Axel de Vernou writes: Russian experts are seriously thinking about how they can use Africa as an eager energy market and a natural resource hub to gain ground on the battlefield. American experts must do the same, focusing on the African countries that receive substantive aid from the West and are prepared to counter the Kremlin’s gas diplomacy and the way Russian media has portrayed the war in Ukraine. – The National Interest

The Americas

The United States has asked Brazil to extradite an alleged Russian spy charged last month by the Justice Department with posing as a foreign student in Washington while carrying out espionage operations against the West, according to U.S. and Brazilian officials. – Washington Post

The United States will dedicate specially trained asylum officers to new refugee centers in Guatemala and Colombia, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Thursday as Washington seeks to create new lawful pathways for migrants. – Reuters

The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions Thursday against members or associates of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel who apparently went into a side business of timeshare fraud that allegedly targeted elderly Americans. – Associated Press

Latin America

Venezuela’s ruling party-controlled National Assembly on Thursday approved a law allowing the government to seize assets linked to corruption cases, as it investigates irregularities at state oil company PDVSA and other state companies. – Reuters

A migration crisis at the border between Chile and Peru intensified Thursday as hundreds of people remained stranded, unable to cross into Peru in an effort to return to their home country of Venezuela. – Associated Press

The elections for president and Congress could also have geopolitical implications as Paraguay is the only country in South America with political ties to Taiwan and the opposition coalition has vowed to review that relationship. – Associated Press

Brian Fonseca and Leland Lazarus write: The current U.S. emphasis on military cooperation is important for national defense but does not help its partners meet their immediate need for domestic public security. The United States must send a clear message that it is willing to work side by side with Latin American and Caribbean mayors and law enforcement officials to build safer, more transparent, and more democratic cities from Canada to Argentina. – Foreign Policy


Canadian legislation to compel digital platforms such as Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube and Bytedance Ltd.’s TikTok, along with streaming services like Netflix Inc., to prominently showcase Canadian programming to users in this country received final parliamentary approval on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal 

Companies deploying generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, will have to disclose any copyrighted material used to develop their systems, according to an early EU agreement that could pave the way for the world’s first comprehensive laws governing the technology. – Reuters

Telegram’s CEO said Thursday that the social media company will appeal a Brazilian judge’s decision to block access to its platform in Brazil for failing to hand over data on neo-Nazi activity. He claimed compliance was “technologically impossible.” – Associated Press


President Biden and his senior military advisers were rebuked Thursday by senators exasperated by what they claimed is the glacial pace at which his administration is moving to supply Abrams tanks to Ukraine, whose leaders say they need such weapons for a highly anticipated counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied territory. – Washington Post

The House committee dedicated to countering China is preparing bipartisan proposals for the fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill that would accelerate U.S. munitions production and arms transfers to Taiwan, its chairman told Defense News in an exclusive interview. – Defense News

The House on Thursday voted 101-321 against withdrawing U.S. troops in Somalia even as Africa Command asks Congress for more funds to establish a “persistent presence” in the war-torn country. – Defense News